Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Breakfast With Betty

It was time to say good-bye.

The activation students had been with us two days a week for several months and on their last day, we took them out to lunch. These two young men had grown, matured and learned so much over the weeks. As we chatted together, my supervisor asked them, "What was the best experience you had in all the time you were with us?"

As I thought about it, I wondered what they would say. Each had planned and run a special event, and they'd been spectacular. They'd gone on a trip, done one-on-one visits, taken residents for walks--so many opportunities to connect. What would they say?

"Breakfast with Betty."

Betty spends her entire day in a wheelchair. She's younger than most of our elders, as early-onset Alzheimer's changed her life in her prime. She's only in her seventies now, and she's lived with us for quite some time. Her naturally curly hair is still blonde, and her gorgeous blue eyes follow your every move. Most times her look is pensive, but when she occasionally smiles, it's a beautiful gift. Betty can no longer talk and hasn't been able to for several years.

But she can communicate. As our student sat with her each morning he was there and spooned porridge, toast, and eggs into her mouth, she communicated volumes and poured into his life. She told him how the value of a life doesn't depend on ability or what a person can contribute. She taught him that communication is more than words. And she taught him that love can grow in unusual places.

This self-assured, mature young man learned to look forward to their times together each morning. Their placement included two, two-week blocks where they came in every day, and after one of these, he had to be away the next week. When he returned, he rushed into the dining room, looking for Betty and saying, "Do you think she missed me?"

Our elders, even the most impaired among them, can give us gifts that will change our lives. As care partners, we need to watch for them and embrace them.

A hug, a smile or...

breakfast with Betty.

Care Partner Wednesday--Breakfast With Betty

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--Overwhelmed

If you talk to anyone living in Southern Ontario this week, there is only one topic.

The weather.

Friday 's grey skies turned to snow Friday night, ice pellets on Saturday, freezing rain on Sunday and torrential rain on Monday. Everything was coated in ice, including my car, driveway and the roads. I remained glued to the window all weekend, but sometime Sunday I realized that this yuck wasn't ending, and I was going to have to travel in it on Monday.

My wonderful son-in-law braved the driving rain to chisel ice from my car. I two-stepped to the car and crept to the station without incident. But the train station parking lot wasn't plowed or salted, and the snow, ice, and slush were deep. The rain was merciless, and I took one perilous step after another heading from my car to the train. "Is there rationing on salt?" I muttered to myself.

The train, subway, and even the bus journeys were fine, as they were all inside. But when I stepped off the bus, the most difficult few steps ensued as I crossed the street and navigated the sloping, ice-filled driveway. Through driving rain, I took one slippery step after another. When I finally stepped in the door, my chest was heaving. I was overwhelmed.

What does overwhelmed look like for the care partner?

It's the daughter dealing with her mother's anxiety disorder who receives twenty calls a day. Fifteen of them are overnight. Nothing she does or says calms her mother down. She hears the same questions and the same worries over and over again. Sometimes, she decides she needs boundaries and tells her mother she will be shutting off the phone after a certain hour, but then she lies in bed worrying.

Overwhelmed is the wife who must make difficult decisions about her husband's care, and just when they are made, his health changes and she must make more difficult decisions.

Overwhelmed is the sibling who visits but has no clue how to relate to her sister. She doesn't know this person and can't recognize the sister she knew. When she tries to do something nice for her, something she used to love, she is met with anger. At a loss, she sits in her car and cries after every visit.

What do you do about overwhelmed?

Sometimes there's nothing you can do but push through.

If you are in the middle of a disaster, or a series of seemingly unending emergencies, it's possible to become overwhelmed quickly. Like facing into driving rain and ice, it keeps coming at you, it must be dealt with. And it hurts.

Sometimes it's not the crisis but the ongoing demands of every day. Lack of sleep, physically demanding and unrelenting care can create a kind of dull despair. One small "extra" like taxes to be completed or the need to buy Christmas presents can create waves of anguish. It's too much. It's all too much.

How do you cope with overwhelming situations?

Probably not well, but here are some tips.

1) Call a friend.  Call all your friends. Put the word out that you need help. Someone to listen, someone to help, someone to support. Overwhelmed can be overcome, but not alone. Never alone. The only way to begin to see the light is to have the love and support of friends.

2) Get rid of the unnecessary. Examine your life and see if there are commitments or duties that don't need to be on your plate. Can another family member look after them? Is there something that can be dropped completely? Any time that you free up, use it to rest.

3) Try to get away, even for half a day. It's amazing how perspective changes when we are rested.

4) Remember, it won't be like this forever. The crisis will pass and the situation will become stable. You will get used to the new normal. Things will get better. It looks like a long tunnel now, but there is an end.

If you are a friend of a care partner, watch them closely. Listen. Be there. Look for overwhelmed. Your friendship and support is an invaluable gift as they walk this journey.

Care Partner Wednesday--Overwhelmed.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Care Partner Wednesday--What Does Purpose Look Like?

Sometimes, it looks like a knitted square.

My knitting group is small at the moment. Just three ladies contribute, but for each of them, it's an important part of who they are.

For Janice, it curbs anxiety. As each day wanes, she struggles with anxious demons who torture her with thoughts of the night. The simple routines of getting ready for bed cause her untold anxiety. Who will help her tonight? Do they know what to do? What if they don't come? She also worries about her body. She has an itch, a sore toe, a dry mouth. Left to her own devices, her worry would spiral out of control. Although every week she needs to be persuaded to start, the knitting and visiting with her friend gives her an hour of relief from the demons.

For Laura, it's a kindness. She comes for the express purpose of spending time with Janice. Her calm, gentle demeanour  and friendly questions turn Janice away from fear, and help her consider other topics such as her adored grandsons. The ladies knit and talk, and the squares pile up.

For Margaret, it's different. She doesn't join the group, but knits a square a day in her apartment. Mostly blind, she knits by feel. She used to produce sweaters and baby clothes in complicated patterns, but she can't see to read a pattern any more. However, she can knit squares. About once a week, she sends me a neat pile of squares and pleads for more wool. Sometimes she phones me to thank me for letting her knit squares!

After weeks of this, I have a bag overflowing. Now it is my turn. I need to sew in all the ends and crotchet them together to make a beautiful afghan. In the fall, when we have our sale, the afghan will be sold to the highest bidder. This revenue can be used for equipment and special projects which are outside the budget.

Purpose. It's feeling needed, feeling I have something to contribute, and that I still matter in this world.

As care partners, we focus on care. Are our elders clean and sweet smelling and looking good? Are they mentally stimulated and given opportunities to exercise? Are there social events available to them? Are they treated with respect? Are their medications the correct ones at the dosage that will help them the most?

Is it any wonder with all these aspects of life and care to worry about, purpose gets lost?

Care partner, purpose is as important to your elder as their medication or clean clothes.  If they don't have something or someone in their life which makes them feel they are contributing, it can be a slippery slide to depression.

How do we find purpose? Obviously, it's individualized, but how about asking their help with something? "Grandpa, what kind of flooring do you think looks better? Grandma, what did you put in your famous apple pie?" Or ask their opinion about the things that really matter. "Dad, I worry about Jimmy learning to drive. How did you handle that? Mom, I've been weighing the pros and cons of this job offer. What do you think?"

Identity is a key. If you know them well, you are aware what makes their eyes sparkle.

I read today that Terry likes to fix things. I remember a few weeks ago how he looked on with interest as I tried to figure out how to remove a mop head. I need to think creatively about how I can offer him fixing projects.

Mona is almost non-verbal, but she comes alive around china tea cups. Today she and I set up a display of china in our new lounge. We read the bottom of the cups and exclaimed over how pretty they were. "My mother used to have one like this," she said, uttering the first full sentence I had heard in months.

Purpose gives an elder a reason to get up in the morning, a feeling of contributing, and celebrates their intrinsic value. It can be found anywhere.

In a mop head,

a china tea cup,

or a ball of wool.

Care Partner Wednesday--What Does Purpose Look Like?